Bilingual education is operationally bad for the children

Ron Unz is running for the United States Senate. One of the major reasons is that bilingual education might be restored in California via the California Multilingual Education Act. Here is state Senator Ricardo Lara in Senator Lara Announces Bill Supporting Multilingual Education:

Multiple studies have shown that supporting children’s home language in early years is critical to later academic achievement, and results in better outcomes than English-only approaches. Additionally, researchers have also found that it is not just English learners who benefit from instruction in two languages – children from English-only homes enrolled in such programs had a distinct reading advantage over their peers in English-only programs.

“Extensive research has shown that students who build strong biliteracy skills (in English and one or more other languages) have higher academic success, a foundation for increased salary earnings, and stronger cognitive skills as they grow older,” said Jan Gustafson-Corea CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education. “CABE supports Senator Lara’s bill as one that will promote educational equity and excellence in our schools and create a pathway for success for all students in the 21st century.”

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” said Lara.

I have a personal story that I can bring to bear on this. I arrived in the United States with only rudimentary knowledge of English (my maternal grandmother taught me a bit before I came to this country). When I entered kindergarten at at 5 I was not fluent. By the end of kindergarten I basically knew English at the fluent level, and any perception that English might have been a second language was gone by the time I finished 1st grade. At home my parents continued to speak Bengali to me, a language in which my fluency remains at the level of a 5 year old (I’m also illiterate).

As a teaching assistant in the UC system I’ve encountered some older students who exhibit a peculiar linguistic profile. Almost always Latino, they have a very mild accent in English, but are basically verbally fluent. But they are shockingly less fluent in written English. My first “wake-up” call was on a final exam where a student of mine asked for the definition of a word. My initial thought was “Dude, I can’t define scientific words for you, that’s your job.” It was the word composition. This is not an isolated incident. I’ve learned not to infer written fluency from verbal fluency for Latino students who are old enough to have gone through bilingual education as it was practiced in California in the 1990s.

Jessica_Alba_SDCC_2014Recently I had dinner with one of these students. He received an A in class. Born in the United States he is of Mexican American background. Though he has strong quantitative and analytic skills, his fluency in written English is not at the same level. Over dinner he explained why: he was in Spanish language classes until he was 13. He didn’t start reading English until he was a teenager, so written English is for him for all practical purposes a second language.

I put the word operationally in the title for a reason: there are forms of bilingual education which are fine, and redound to a students’ success. My brother-in-law was in a French language immersion school and he has no problem with the English. But the immersion schools that middle class American students experience are not the bilingual schools which are set up in California’s Central Valley.

I understand that there are studies which indicate multilingualism are beneficial cognitively. I’m mildly skeptical of these studies, but I don’t believe they speak to the sort of schools which will reemerge if bilingual education is brought back. Additionally, I am aware that enabling Mexican American children to learn English will not be a panacea for weak college preparation for a variety of reasons. It hasn’t been so far at least. But fostering an environment where these people are linguistically segregated is not going to help anything in the near future. Unless you are a particular type of multiculturalist who actually prefers a Balkanized society (or, a racialist).

Would you conduct medical experiments on Neanderthals? If not, call them human

neaScience just published another paper on archaic admixture, Excavating Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from the genomes of Melanesian individuals. It’s open access, so you should read it. And really, you should read the supplements. The paper is fine enough, but the space limitations are a real bummer here.

But what I want to talk about is Carl Zimmer’s write-up in The New York Times, Ancestors of Modern Humans Interbred With Extinct Hominins, Study Finds. It’s good, I have no quibbles with Carl’s journalism. I am just perplexed at the title (which he’s not responsible for). Why would you say “hominins” instead of humans? Because that’s what these distant lineages, which contributed some ancestry to our own, were, by any reasonable definition.

I have not given much thought to animal experimentation, though I am not comfortable personally with research on apes (I did read The Great Ape Project). I would definitely oppose research on sister hominin lineages if they were to be discovered alive in some obscure and isolated location, because they are human, even if they are different. There is some ambiguity in the science journalism right now as to what is or isn’t a human from what I can tell by the constant semantic fluidity. Often you finesse the issue by stating “modern human.” I think that’s fine. But we need to seriously think about collapsing the semantic distinction between these diverse lineages when it comes to their human status. Humanity as a characteristic is an ancestral trait of the hominin lineage, not a derived one.

Psychiatric genetics out of the file drawer

I’ve been rather bearish on candidate gene studies of human behavior (e.g., “hug gene” or “violence gene”) since 2007. The reason being the influence of friends who warned me that a lot of false positive results were being published because they could be published. Basically you might have one group publish on a plausible candidate gene, and other groups would follow up and publish only when p < 0.05, neglecting all the null results.

I'm a believer that much of variation in behavior has a biological basis in terms of variation in genes. But I’m a believer in robust and replicable science which I have faith in. With that, Is there a publication bias in behavioral intranasal oxytocin research on humans? Opening the file drawer of one lab:

The neurohormone oxytocin (OT) has been one the most studied peptides in behavioral sciences over the past two decades. Primarily known for its crucial role in labor and lactation, a rapidly growing literature suggests that intranasal OT (IN-OT) may also play a role in humans’ emotional and social lives. However, the lack of a convincing theoretical framework explaining IN-OT’s effects that would also allow to predict which moderators exert their effects and when, has raised healthy skepticism regarding the robustness of human behavioral IN-OT research. The poor knowledge of OT’s exact pharmacokinetic properties, crucial statistical and methodological issues and the absence of direct replication efforts may have lead to a publication bias in IN-OT literature with many unpublished studies with null results lying in laboratories’ drawers. Is there a file drawer problem in IN-OT research? If this is the case, it may also be the case in our laboratory. This paper aims to answer that question, document the extent of the problem and discuss its implications for OT research. Through eight studies (including 13 dependent variables overall, assessed through 25 different paradigms) performed in our lab between 2009 and 2014 on 453 subjects, results were too often not those expected. Only five publications emerged from our studies and only one of these reported a null-finding. After realizing that our publication portfolio has become less and less representative of our actual findings and because the non-publication of our data might contribute to generating a publication bias in IN-OT research, we decided to get these studies out of our drawer and encourage other laboratories to do the same.

Bryan Caplan gholas in our future

220px-BryanCaplanBryan Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, long ago expressed a desire to clone himself. To some extent I can understand the desire. There are many ways that my toddler son resembles me in terms of his behavior patterns that are uncanny. This allows me to gain insight into his thought process, and hopefully mentor him in a manner which would be more difficult if he wasn’t quite like me. The similarities we be even greater if he was a genetic clone. Personally, I am not inclined to clone myself because I get along very well with different types of people, and don’t have the impulse to encounter a literal mini-me. I’ve never, for example, regretted not having an identical twin. But to each his own.

I thought of Caplan when I read this article in New York Magazine, Paying $100,000 to Clone Your Dog Won’t Give You Your Dog Back:

Even still, sometimes the things you know with your head can’t compete with the comparatively dumb hopes of your heart. That NPR report referenced earlier included the story of Dr. Phillip Dupont and his wife, Paula, who run a veterinary clinic in Louisiana. The Duponts paid Sooam $100,000 to clone their dog Melvin, a pet they loved and trusted so deeply they even let the dog “babysit their grandson in the backyard all by himself.” The Duponts got three puppies out of the deal, though one of those puppies died. The other two are named Ken and Henry, and the couple is so happy with them they’re considering using Melvin’s DNA again — what better dog to give their grandson than one created with the DNA of his former babysitter?

It seems likely that over time the price point for cloning technologies will decline. It may be feasible for families to recreate, at least genetically, the same pet for generations using the original cell line. In Frank Herbert’s Dune series Duncan Idaho was resurrected over and over through an advanced form of cloning. And, if the need for continuity of identity is heritable, one can imagine clone lines of humans developing over time. This isn’t that far-fetched, there are many taxa where there are closely related clonal and sexual lineages. Similarly, one can imagine sexual random mating humans, and clonal lines who have sex only for pleasure.

Celts from the Atlantic

51WCMXOk9IL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_A man’s discovery of bones under his pub could forever change what we know about the Irish:

But over the last decade, a growing number of scholars have argued that the first Celtic languages were spoken not by the Celts in the middle of Europe but by ancient people on Europe’s westernmost extremities, possibly in Portugal, Spain, Ireland or the other locales on the western edges of the British Isles.

Koch, the linguist at the University of Wales, for example, proposed in 2008 that “Celtic” languages were not imports to the region but instead were developed somewhere in the British Isles or the Iberian Peninsula — and then spread eastward into continental Europe.

Moreover, in recent years, some archaeologists have proposed that the traditional story of the Celts’ invasion was, in a sense, exactly wrong — the culture was not imported but exported — originating on the western edge of Europe much earlier than previously thought and spreading into the continent.

In a 2001 book, Cunliffe, the Oxford scholar, argued on the basis of archaeological evidence that the flow of Celtic culture was opposite that of the traditional view — it flowed from the western edge of Europe, what he calls “the Atlantic zone” — into the rest of the continent. In many places of the Atlantic zone, he notes, people were buried in passages aligned with the solstices, a sign that they shared a unified belief system.

“From about 5,000 B.C. onwards, complicated ideas of status, art, cosmology were being disseminated along the Atlantic seaways,” Cunliffe said, and that culture then spread eastward.

The paper they’re alluding to is Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome.

Why does the mainstream media keep lying about Silicon Valley demographics?


The white man who runs Google
The white man who runs Google
The above graph shows the diversity of Silicon Valley firms. There is an under-representation of black Americans and people of Latino cultural backgrounds. But there are many people of Asian ethnic origins. Since “Asians,” defined as people who inhabit the sweep of land between the Indus and east and north toward the Amur river, compose about 50% of the world’s population, it seems that their representation is fair. As someone who has friends who work in Silicon Valley the Asian flavor of the area is pretty hard to avoid. Go to Cupertino, where Asians are ~2/3 of the population, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone who has spent time in the Valley knows this. Everyone who has been to a Google cafeteria knows this.

But this group does not include most Americans, so they rely on the media to impart knowledge of this region of America. Films like The Social Network, shows like Silicon Valley. And of course journalists and journalism. I’m not one to dismiss mainstream journalism. I pay for both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But what is going on with articles like this in Quartz, White men dominate Silicon Valley not by accident, but by design. White men dominate Silicon Valley??? What planet are these headline writers living on? Basically, they’re lying, because they have a narrative, and they’re fitting the facts to fit that narrative. Humans have biases, and they tend to fall into preferred narratives. I understand. But this is Pravda level misrepresentation.

Decreased life expectancy is a white privilege
Decreased life expectancy is a white privilege
Here’s a Mother Jones article: Silicon Valley Firms Are Even Whiter and More Male Than You Thought. Read the article, and you find this: “But among those people directly employed in technology positions at Bay Area tech firms, Asians have actually surpassed whites as the dominant racial group….” No. Shit. Sherlock.

Demographic denialism is a thing. And it’s especially strong on the political-cultural Left. For example, the “Model Minority Myth” is not a myth. Look at the statistics on health and wealth. Actually, if you buy the myth that it isn’t a myth, I’m 99% sure you won’t. Rather, you’ll read qualitative ethnographies of Hmong refugees and use that as an equal balance to the literal tsunami of H1-B’s pouring into this country… That’s exactly like reducing the experience of all white people to downtrodden folk in Appalachia. But the same sort who assert that the model minority is a myth because of Southeast Asian refugees wouldn’t dare express the idea that white privilege is a myth because of Appalachian poverty.

Sumo scale cultural appropriation at UC Davis

Screenshot from 2016-03-15 22-46-48Sometimes you don’t know what is real or not real. What do people really believe? Do they really believe what they say? Even if it’s clearly ridiculous? Probably internalized 1984 too much. Also, many of my white friends have admitted to me that in university contexts when talking about sensitive topics such as race they’ve basically memorized what to say, even if they basically have no agreement with what they assert. They know what the party line to please everyone is.

So this happened at my university. ASUCD draws criticism for sumo wrestling costumes at Block Party:

Among those activities was an attraction in which students could dress in sumo suits and wrestle each other. The activity immediately drew criticism from members of the student body, who accused ASUCD of fat shaming and culturally appropriating Japanese culture.

According to the students who raised this issue to ASUCD, the sumo suits trivialized Japanese culture and the history of Japanese rikishi or sumo wrestlers.

Once the issue was brought to ASUCD’s attention, ASUCD’s Executive Office, consisting of President Mariah Kala Watson, Vice President Gareth Smythe and Controller Francisco Lara, immediately issued an apology for the incident and commended the students that brought the issue to light.

“We’d like to apologize for any harm the ‘Sumo Suit’ may have caused you all. This lapse in judgment is completely ASUCD’s fault and responsibility alone,” said ASUCD’s Executive Office in a Facebook post. “We are thankful to the student who courageously brought this issue to our attention […] This was an egregious oversight and it will hopefully not happen in the future.”

Scott Tsuchitani, a Ph.D. student in cultural studies, believed the incident was evidence of the lack of awareness of the racism against Asian and Asian American students.

“My overall impression is that this conversation is in itself an expression of white supremacist anti-Asian structural racism. If people are genuinely concerned with the needs of Asian Americans, then why are Asian American voices not front and center in this conversation?” Tsuchitani said via email. “Instead, Asian Americans are treated as mute, hapless victims, devoid of agency, a.k.a. the ‘model minority’ stereotype. That is what I see being reinscribed by this conversation.”

Tsuchitani went on to say that he was not pleased by ASUCD’s apology and called for more action from the association.

“It is pitiful that the ASUCD would pathologize the so-called victims as in need of treatment instead of reflecting more deeply on what is needed to address ASUCD’s own failure in this situation,” Tsuchitani said. “From my limited perspective, I would suggest that the foremost need for treatment might well be for cultural competency training for ASUCD itself.  That is much more relevant here than any Orientalist history of sumo wrestling.”


51FCNSFNR5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Scott Tsuchitani is a smart guy. He has two master’s degrees in engineering already. He’s not getting his Ph.D. in cultural studies because that’s all he could do with his mind. The fact that intelligent people such as Scott Tsuchitani parrot this sort of weird gibberish as a form of symbolic performance, enacting scripts which navigate the discourse of hierarchical power relations, so as to assert superiority and agency over others, is indicative of an intellectual culture in advanced stages of putrefaction.

Another symptom of a culture near the end of its internally incoherent logic is that you can’t distinguish farce from sincere expressions of outrage. The article above alludes to “fat shaming.” It reports on this objection in a straight manner, assuming the sincerity of the complainant. Actually that student was trolling. It is reached such levels of self-parody that you can’t distinguish between the trolls and the truly offended, it’s all turning into a great game.

For those genuinely interested in Japanese culture, as opposed to being offended on behalf of Japanese culture, I recommend Maurius Jansen’s The Making of Modern Japan. Also, Moshi Moshi is much better than Zen Toro or Mikuni in my opinion.

Human evolutionary history as a cryptic tangle

SHUpdate Ignore stuff on mutation rate. Confused mutation rate per year with per generation. Moral of story: read more closely! End update

The genetic data from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) hominins has finally been published in Nature. Nuclear DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins:

A unique assemblage of 28 hominin individuals, found in Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain, has recently been dated to approximately 430,000 years ago…While the Sima de los Huesos hominins share some derived morphological features with Neanderthals, the mitochondrial genome retrieved from one individual from Sima de los Huesos is more closely related to the mitochondrial DNA of Denisovans than to that of Neanderthals…Here we recover nuclear DNA sequences from two specimens, which show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were related to Neanderthals rather than to Denisovans, indicating that the population divergence between Neanderthals and Denisovans predates 430,000 years ago. A mitochondrial DNA recovered from one of the specimens shares the previously described relationship to Denisovan mitochondrial DNAs, suggesting, among other possibilities, that the mitochondrial DNA gene pool of Neanderthals turned over later in their history.

I don’t want to denigrate mtDNA, but the whole field of phylogeography and inference of evolutionary relationships in non-human organisms has been confused by the fact that many scientists drew a straight-line between the genealogy of a single locus, mtDNA, and the genealogy of a whole species. In light of results from molecular ecology, which long relied on mtDNA, but is finally moving toward genome-wide marker sets because of new technologies, I’m absolutely not shocked that mtDNA is not particularly predictive of whole genome relatedness. Recall that the Denisovan hominin had an mtDNA lineage which was more distant from Neanderthals than the whole genome turned out to be.

More importantly for this paper is that they find that whole genome inferences suggest that the SH hominins are genetically closer to Neanderthals than they were to Denisovans. I’ll skip over their quality control of the ancient samples…the group that published this paper is the best in the business, and it’s broadly persuasive to me…though I don’t know much about this topic, so you shouldn’t put much weight on my opinion. Because of the small amount of data retrieved they used a rather simple method to establish relatedness: shared derived mutations. Basically these are unique mutations which distinguish particular hominin lineages from each other and the outgroup population (other primates).

The above figure shows that the the SH hominin samples share much more with Neanderthals than with Denisovans, and more with Denisovans than with modern humans. From that one might reasonably infer then that:

1) The ancestry of modern humans diverged before the SH-Neanderthal-Denisovan clade.

2) But Denisovans diverged rather quickly from the SH-Neanderthal clade.

3) Since the SH hominin site seems to date to ~400,000 years before the present, and is found in part of the traditional range of Neanderthals, and these individuals share morphological characteristics with this group, the SH hominins may be the ancestral population, or related to the ancestral population, of Neanderthals.

How robust is this date? I don’t know enough geology or paleontology to judge, so I won’t follow the citations. But a lot of the discussion and novelty of these results seems to hinge on this date. From the paper:

This age is compatible with the population split time of 381,000–473,000 years ago estimated for Neanderthals and Denisovans on the basis of their nuclear genome sequences and using the human mutation rate of 0.5 × 10−9 per base pair per year…This mutation rate also suggests that the population split between archaic and modern humans occurred between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago.

A more conventional mutation rate I’ve seen is closer to 1 to 2 × 10−8, or two to four times faster than the one above. But the mutation rate literature is rather confusing for me, and does not totally align well together, possibly due to variation in rate over time.

The picture above is often derived from a model where we fit the diversification of the human lineage to a tree. But within the paper they suggest Neanderthal mtDNA might have been African, and that there may have been an earlier migration out of Africa before the one that occurred ~50-100,000 years ago. I don’t see a priori why this couldn’t be so, but I’m also not clear how we’re going to get a good grasp of the details of the dynamics at play.

Perhaps the dominance of the African “Out of Africa” lineage over the last 100,000 years is an aberration. It may be that much of human history was characterized by the sorts of meta-population dynamics described by classical multi-regionalists. The possibility that Neanderthal-Denisovan divergence might be as old as ~450,000 years before the present suggests to me that the massive replacement and assimilation we saw ~50-100,000 years ago was somehow atypical in terms of how it disrupted deep regional population structure….

Revenge of the drift


As longtime readers know the role of selection and drift in shaping evolutionary processes have long been at issue within the field. Even as early as Charles Darwin’s time there were some, including his famous bulldog Thomas H. Huxely, who were skeptical that natural selection was a primary engine of evolutionary change (Darwin had convince him about the reality of common descent with modification though). The the decades around 1900 saw what Peter J. Bowler has described as the “eclipse of Darwinism.” All intellectuals understood and accepted evolution, but many were skeptical of the framework and arguments of Darwin. This eclipse receded with the integration of genetics into evolutionary theory, which gave rise to population genetics, and birthed the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis by ~1950.

51tQuYMf7gL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One might argue that this marked the high-tide of adaptationism and acceptance for the role of selection in shaping all the picayune details of biological phenomena. But even then there were those who were more cautious (there are arguments over whether Sewall Wright, one of the fathers of population genetics, did or did not argue for a strong role for stochasticity in his metaphor for evolutionary process, the shifting balance across the adaptive landscape).

In the 1960s the dialogue between empirical results which reported high degrees of realized polymorphism in the field of molecular evolution and the formal models promoted by thinkers such as Motoo Kimura which eventually came under the heading “neutral theory” induced a revolution in our thinking about evolution. Though many might argue for the primacy of selection constraining and shaping morphological variation (or phenotypic traits on a coarser scale more generally), a null hypothesis on the molecular scale was that most variation was the outcome of neutral process. That is, even if most new mutations were deleterious (this may not even be the case in most of the genome of some organisms), the ones which attained high frequency to generate polymorphism did so usually by chance, not because they were favored.

This debate was surprisingly vociferous for several decades. When I first encountered it in the mid-1990s it had cooled off, but there did not seem to be a final resolution (though my impression is that among evolutionary geneticists a form of neutralism seemed to be widely accepted as a default model in any sort of hypothesis testing).

41qS+5MyBmL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In general I am not a believer that genomics has “changed everything” when it comes to evolutionary biology. Rather, evolutionary genomics literally stands on the shoulders of giants (well, mostly dead white men). But I do think genomics offers up the possibility to obtain greater empirical clarity on the relative role of neutral stochastic forces and selection in shaping variation on the molecular level. A full genome sequence (or enough to gain an appreciable sense of patterns in the genome) is invaluable information. It is in relation to the patterns of DNA arguably all the information (at some point in the future long reads will capture structural variants and epigenomics will also advance).

Last spring I wrote about a fascinating new paper, Natural Selection Constrains Neutral Diversity across A Wide Range of Species, in the post Selectionism Strikes Back! The title says it all. Using a wide range of genomes the authors argue that two forms of natural selection, the background selection which constrains the emergence of deleterious alleles at high frequency, and selection of positive alleles which allow for linked regions of the genome to sweep at high frequency and eliminate variation (and so generate haplotype blocks), can help resolve what has been termed “Lewontin’s paradox”. The paradox is simple: neutral theory predicts that population size will dictate the amount of variation one sees within a species. Large populations have many mutations traversing the frequency range from ~0 to 1, while small populations will have far less diversity because of the power of drift in fixing mutants rather quickly. The manner in which some have resolved this paradox is that large populations are subject to powerful selection dynamics which constrain the neutral variation; in particular, positive sweeps (producing “genetic draft”) and negative constraints homogenize large regions of the genome. Since the above paper is open access I recommend you read it. They found that selection did seem to impact species with different population sizes in the direction in which the selectionist resolution would imply (those species which have large population sizes should have more polymorphism, but selection constraints variation much more).

But Graham Coop has posted a note on bioRxiv, Does linked selection explain the narrow range of genetic diversity across species?, which suggests that though the qualitative results match the selectionist narrative, the magnitude of the effect is simply not what one might expect if selection was dominant over stochastic forces driven by variation in demographics. That is, just because Drosophila has a huge census size today does not mean that it had a huge census size over the course of its history, and genetic diversity is strongly sensitive to the smallest population size over a temporal window (this is when most of the diversity can get expunged by drift forces). The figure above shows Coop’s reanalysis of the results in the above paper using their model. He suggests that quantitatively the magnitude of the effect of linked selection seems far more modest. From the preprint:

To understand the contributions of the two explanations to levels of diversity, it is helpful to distinguish between the average observed level of neutral polymorphism in the genome (π) and that expected in the absence of linked selection (π0 ). Our idealized neutral level of variation in which π0 ≈ 4Ne μ, reflects the effective size of the population (Ne ) in the absence of linked selection ( here Ne is not estimated simply from putatively neutral diversity levels genome-wide). To illustrate this point, take the extreme scenario in which linked selection explains nearly all of the deficit in variation in species with large census sizes, with fluctuations in population size playing a minor role. In these species, π should be orders of magnitude smaller than π0 , and Ne should be roughly the same order of magnitude as the census size. In contrast, if fluctuations in population size explain most of the deficit, then π should be close to π0 for all species, while Ne would be many orders of magnitude lower than census population sizes for species with large population sizes.

Coop does observe that patterns of variation within the genome may be strongly shaped by linked selection, and, that a thorough understanding of linked selection is essential to generating a proper model which captures natural dynamics. But at the end of the day he seems to reject the thesis that it’s “all selection, all the time.” His argument is broadly persuasive to me, but I think the authors above have work that will follow up the original paper.

Both the original paper and the preprint that responds to it should be read closely. I do not believe this will be a decades long debate. Yes, there are many badly assembled draft genomes out there, but in the next ten years we’ll have the data to actually test robustly these competing theses as to the power of different evolutionary forces in shaping variation. At least on the scale of the sequence….

The purity of the Jarawa race?


51dqYKA64vL._AC_UL320_SR200,320_The Andamanese are unique in the world in that they are a South Asian people who are known to have maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle down to the present day uninterrupted. Literally every other South Asian population has evidence of mixture with West Eurasian groups in the last 10,000 years, with the typical South Asian being about an even mix of West Eurasian, and an indigenous population with roots in the subcontinent that go back to the Pleistocene. It would be false to say that the Andamanese are ancestors of modern Indians. First, they’re not an ancient people, but a modern population. Second, the last common ancestors between mainland Indians and Andamanese probably date to the Pleistocene, on the order of ~20,000 years ago or so. They are genetically important because they allow researchers to make inferences about Indian populations which no longer exist without mixture with West Eurasians. But, they are no more ancient or pure than any other group of people in the world.

With that, this article in The New York Times strikes me as tragic, and exposes a lacunae in the ideals of universal morality that most moderns espouse, A Killing Tests India’s Protection of an Aboriginal Culture. The gist is that the Jarawa people, who are to some extent presumed an uncontacted tribe which is left to its own devices, have a tradition of killing infants born to widows and those of mixed-race (presumably fathered by non-Jarawa men). The authorities on the island have generally looked the other way when these babies were were killed, but recently the death of a 5 month old by drowning has prompted authorities to begin an investigation into the murder.

Here’s an important section:

Even before the police heard of the baby’s killing, the authorities on South Andaman Island were struggling with the question of whether to allow the Jarawas, who are classified as a “particularly vulnerable tribal group,” more access to the world outside their reserve.

The top official on the Andaman Islands, Lt. Gov. A. K. Singh, said that upon taking up his post in 2013, he had encountered two schools of thought. One, held by officials and academics on the left, he said, was that “any contact of the primitive tribe with modern civilization has been detrimental.”

The other school questioned how the government could deny the tribe the benefits of modern life. “Mankind has progressed by leaps and bounds,” Mr. Singh said. “Are they to remain in that state? Have we given them the choice?”

Zubair Ahmed, a journalist, said the policy of minimizing interaction with the Jarawas had run into a problem: Members of the tribe are curious about what surrounds them.

“We have seen them coming out, coming out on their own,” Mr. Ahmed said. “You cannot push them back inside the forest. They want to have a phone. They want to ride in a vehicle.”

nihms137159f4First, the Jarawa uniqueness is not in their genetics, but in their culture. The reality is that these children don’t need to be killed to maintain cultural integrity, since they are going to be raised in their mother’s culture in any case. Nepal is 80% Hindu, but far less than 80% of its genetic character is typically South Asian (specifically, there’s a lot of Tibetan/Himalayan ancestry in many Hindu groups, including among Nepalese Brahmins). The Jarawa are not that genetically unique; they are descended from an African population that left ~50,000 years ago, just like all non-Africans are. They’re not really pure, as such, but simply isolated and moderately unique. If genetics was so important they should all get genotyped or sequenced before they are assimilated, which seems inevitable.

Second, if you really care about maintaining a reserve of Andamanese uniqueness the Jarawa are not what you want. As is noted above, and highlighted in The Land of the Naked People, the indigenous people of the Andamans are attracted to modern ways just like every other group in the world. When they encounter sugar and alcohol, they’re drawn to them, though as hunter-gatherers their morbidity is often very high. And in any case, the Sentinelese are a truly isolated people, not cohabitating in the same land as settlers from the mainland. The absorption of the Jarawa would not be that consequential with that taken into consideration.

Finally, passages like this illustrate why liberal universalism (and institutional ethical religions) became ‘a thing’, so to speak:

Others go further, saying the state has no business interfering in the tribe’s tradition of killing children of mixed blood.

“Such things were usually ignored,” said Samir Acharya, an activist with the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology. “I think they have the right to maintain the purity of their race. If they decide such a child should be wasted, let them do it.”

The Jarawa are humans, and as humans they should be subject to laws. They are not a nation-state, and live within India. Because of their vulnerability to diseases, as well as their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, there is great danger in integrating them into the modern world. But it is their right as humans if they so choose. And, as humans they are also subject to the same bans on activities such as infanticide.